Athough any filmmaking entails making selections and possibly killing a darling or two, the short film format forces filmmakers to be even more to the point. What is possible in a 10, 20, or 30 minute short? How can you craft a story that will have some impact? What is the best way to use the limited time available? Or what kind of narratives benefit from a short time frame? The opportunity to watch a wide array of short documentary films, provided by the Go Short International Short Film Festival, fostered ideas about what actually makes shorts work, and what possibly doesn’t.
In The Day We Danced on the Moon (11’) mental health patients travel to an arts festival in Ireland. They talk about what it is like to have a psychosis, with animation visualizing an alternative reality, and about how society treats them. We see them on their way and we see them perform. Visually the film is a bit messy, with various styles included, but that serves the points it addresses: the possibilities of these individuals despite their ‘impediments’, our own prejudices and short-sightedness, and a broader idea of what normality is and how it is constructed.
That style can be crucial is illustrated by What the Cat Sees (18’). A cat residing near the entrance of a hospital is witness to the comings and goings of patients and their families and friends, and to the breaks they spend outside, mostly smoking. This results in many interesting, funny and wise observations and overheard conversations. Unfortunately the film is not as true to its form as it could have been: there are many scenes in which people clearly speak to the filmmaker and a few in which questions are included. It breaks the unity of the film and with that the whole idea falls apart.
This kind of juxtaposing two sides the coin appears in more films, and is another way of putting something on the table by aligning it with a counterpart. In Framing the Other (25’) a Mursi woman of Southern Ethiopia and a Dutch tourist who visits her to take pictures are contrasted. The Mursi is a traditional tribe who allow tourists to photograph them for money. As a consequence, an industry has developed in which both play their role: tourists want something for nothing and the Mursi want to get the most out of it. We witness the protagonists before, during and after the ‘shoot’. We listen to their expectations, preparations and the inevitable disappointment: one is too stingy, the other too greedy. Although the topic could easily make for a longer film in terms of the impact of this development on traditional communities and how it feeds people’s desire for possessions, the film is effective in its juxtapositioning – although the inevitable indignation of course concerns the tourist rather than the Mursi woman. The film received a special mention from the Go Short European Competition jury.
An unsettling peek into the lives of two young men, Alex and Peter, who collect cans for a living, is provided by the film Faggots (32’). Alex shares the dreams he once had about his future, including having children; it seems outdated now. We see their daily struggle, eating whatever they can get their hands on and passing out from alcohol at times. The flipside of their harsh life is their love for each other, which still seems to be in the phase of discovery. The images are as raw as their lives, the filmmaker never hiding his presence on the scene, visually questioning their hopes and dreams and his representation of it.
Of course, many films do not fit into these two approaches. One of them is When the War Ends (36’), set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the war it refers to being the troubles between Catholics and Protestants. The film addresses how this war is still present in the heads and lives of those who lived through it, especially for Robert McClenaghan. The film contains archive material, observation, interviews and a carefully crafted soundtrack that opens to the voices of others. Are they in his head or do they point to others who lived through similar experiences? Other consequences of the war remain somewhat invisible, save monuments and guided tours. But it seems McClenaghan is more relaxed giving such tours than expressing himself in an interview.
Lady cab driver Boury has her own struggle to attend to. She features in Taxi Sister (28’) as one of 15 female cab drivers in Dakar, Senegal (compared to 15,000 male drivers). The filmmaker tried to include many aspects of the main character’s life: her male colleagues/competitors, her best friend/colleague, her absent father and her ex-husband, her family. But because there is relatively little time a lot of information concerning these is told in voice-over rather than presented visually.
These two films scratch the surface of topics that definitely merit longer films. Both films show complex situations in which individuals try to give meaning to their lives and need to battle some mental and/or physical demons to do so. Quite possibly, production circumstances dictated the limited lengths of these films. In any case, they tickled my taste buds and felt incomplete.